Gambling A 'painless' tax on the foolish

June 17, 2007|by Lloyd Waters

The State of Maryland is confronted with a significant budget deficit that no one seemingly wants to address. Politicians know exactly how unpopular taxes are these days. They know, too, that many citizens are not really fans of the flush fee or the increase in auto tag renewals. They have also seen the irate comments on the electricity increases in parts of the state, while other areas are waiting for the hammer to fall.

Fiscal desperation seems to be knocking on the Maryland State House door. "How can we get more money with less pain for our taxpayers?" is a voice heard in Annapolis. "I know," answers another, "let's get some slots in our state."

Some years ago, in an effort to help balance the budget, a lottery was created. Let's do it for our kids' education was the rallying cry. That worked so well, a second daily lottery was created to raise more funds.


Oh, those daily games of chance! Just pick a few numbers and win a lot of money. It doesn't matter if you win, because in losing you are helping Maryland. What an effective approach - I feel much better now as I toss my losing tickets into the trash can.

I once read somewhere that "a lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math." Trying to pick the winning three-digit lottery number is like being surrounded by 1,000 doors and each has a three-digit number. Pay a dollar and pick the correct door out of those thousand and win $500. How hard can that be?

From a political posture, raising some money on the backs of dumb lottery players doesn't seem like a bad idea. People are going to gamble anyway, so let's make them happy while we take their money.

Now that the lotteries have been so successful, why not explore some other ways in the gambling arena to raise money?

Delaware, West Virginia and most recently Pennsylvania have recognized the potential of slots and leaped into the pool of lights, action and sounds. Maryland citizens routinely visit these states to gamble, so why can't we have some action closer to home?

The revenues have been so phenomenal for West Virginia, the next logical progression for gambling is the question of card games, to include black jack and others.

Maybe the next step is to expand those slots into grocery stores, restaurants, or bars so we can make a little more money.

Those people who can no longer smoke in restaurants or bars will have a lot of idle time on their hands. Maybe the addition of a few slot machines would help them to better enjoy their outing.

Maybe another way to raise even more money will be to lower the gambling age. Wow, just consider those numbers. I'm not sure all the kids will want to gamble, but I "bet ya" some of them will. After watching dad and mom having so much fun trying to win a couple dollars, I am sure they may want to try it, too.

Even though the old proverb reminds us that "in a bet there is both a fool and a thief," people still fill up the parking decks at Charles Town, W.Va., and wait in line to offer up their money.

I have to admit to you, I've placed a bet or two myself at the race track. Occasionally I win, but more often I'm the fool in the equation.

I remember a trip I made to Las Vegas to attend a conference. As I was walking down the strip one day, I noticed a lot of people staring at the roof top of one of the casinos. There was a man perched on the edge and threatening to jump. Why would anyone want to jump from the top of a 30-story casino?

I suspect the answer was more than obvious. Perhaps he lost all his money, perhaps he lost his house, maybe his savings or maybe he lost everything. An addiction of any kind is a cruel thing.

In some circles, video poker and slot machines have been referred to as the "crack cocaine of gambling" because of their addictive nature.

People are actually reinforced to keep playing by the sounds and lights when they win. Many citizens in our community know of people with gambling addictions.

These people are also aware of the problems created by the introduction of slot machines into our community.

A Nevada study has suggested that some 6.4 percent of that state's population were either pathological or problem gamblers.

Ceasar's Entertainment owns three casinos on the Vegas strip, and they currently have a policy that requires their employees to report guests who have made comments that suggest they may be addicted to gambling.

Seventeen states offer treatment programs for problem gamblers and have set aside budgeted monies to assist those individuals with gambling addictions.

If slots come to Maryland, or gambling is expanded in West Virginia to include card games, then those states have a responsibility to designate funds to assist those individuals who may become addicted to gambling.

You only need to read the newspaper to see how problematic gambling can be.

Bill Bennett, the "Book of Virtues" fellow, rationalizes his addiction by saying he can afford it and it doesn't hurt anyone. Pete Rose, one of the greatest baseball players of all time, has a sad chapter to his book because of gambling. Charles Barkley acknowledges that gambling is a problem for him. Michael Vick, and those accusations of gambling on dog fights, also suggests a gambling problem.

Those people are high profile, but think of the many little unknown people who have a similar problem and potential addiction in our own state. After all, "you have to play to win."

Ben Franklin, in his wisdom, left us with some good advice when he said, "A fool and his money is soon parted." Your state representatives who are supporting slots are hoping that you ignore old Ben's advice.

Lloyd "Pete" Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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